Pacific Image PowerSlide 3650

I stopped scanning slides for a while, but this week I started back at it. I stopped partly because I was tired of it but also because the slide scanner was hocking up crazy stuff, malfunctioning so badly that I just said to hell with it. I did what any reasonable person would do. I stopped using it. I gave it a break. And when I resumed using the thing, it worked fine. I guess it overheated. The scanner is a Pacific Imaging PowerSlide 3650. It is a crazy contraption. I like the PowerSlide 3650 but it is not an easy-going, hands-off device. Getting this thing to do what I expect of it is a team effort. When it works it just churns away, spitting out decent-quality scans of my collection of thousands of slides. When it does not work I could blow a gasket. The scanner jams. It jams a lot, and when it jams it produces an awful hacking noise, the metal arm mechanism pounding at the hapless little 2″x2″ slide, occasionally ingesting said slide and thrusting it into the abyss of the scanner’s innards. These slides are destroyed, and by special dispensation of the company that makes the scanner I was allowed to disassemble the PowerSlide 3650 and pull the remains of some annihilated slides from inside — without voiding the warranty on the device. I had to do this because they were jamming the scanner from within, rendering the device useless. The first slide pictured here was 52 years old before the PowerSlide 3650 made it look like it had been chewed up and spit out by a cud-chewing beast. The second slide is from 1976 and looks like it was held under a blowtorch.

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I do not mean to trash the PowerSlide 3650 scanner, though. Having called it out by name and manufacturer I guess I should make it clear that these mangled slides are rare. I have scanned over 10,000 slides with the PowerSlide 3650 and so far I have only lost 3 slides in the manner described. Those slides were in poor condition to begin with and maybe they should not have been committed to the jam-happy PowerSlide 3650. I say “maybe” because I can not understand why the 3650 jams on some slides but not others. Perfect slides are as likely to jam as bent or damaged slides. I decided not to use the PowerSlide 3650 to scan some older glass mounted slides. I never tried it but the possibility of shattering the glass in a scanner jam was enough to make me scan those on the CanoScan 8800f flatbed scanner with the slides attachment. The image quality is not as good but I do not want to risk crushing the slides, which are from the 1940s.

The idiosyncrasies of the PowerSlide 3650 are tolerable for the career hobbyist in me but disappointment lingers. I imagined I could run a side business with it, loading up 100 slides at a time and scanning them at 25¢ a pop while I slept or did other things. I could not, as part of a business endeavor, promise anything to a paying customer with this thing. It is too high-maintenance a device. This is probably a good thing, though. It keeps me from turning into the Robin Williams character in One Hour Photo, a movie I liked but which came up a little short of its intentions. I hate to say it but for me the most enduring image from that film is of Robin Williams sitting on the can, taking a dump in the bathroom of his obsession’s house.

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I started scanning slides back in March, and since then I have sought out complete sets of family slides, sets which span decades and capture those milestones and milliseconds endemic to ordinary life. There have been some glorious gems in all those slides. A color shot of Times Square in 1942 looks like no image I have seen of that well-documented crossroad. The place looks so small in 1942. Today Times Square looks like a wannabe Las Vegas that suddenly turned into a trailer park with its $2 lawn chairs and bargain-basement pedestrian accoutrements. Slides from the early 1940s also get my attentions, not just for the color quality but for the fact that America in the 1940s is remembered as a black and white era by those of us who arrived after. Media memories command authority, and if World War II was reported on television and in print in black and white then most of us human beings whose lives did not touch the 1940s will imagine the battlefields and the soldiers themselves as black and white creatures.

The slides have acres of dreck about them. Miles to go between blurry, deteriorated slides of Niagara Falls and a clear, real image of a city street. Lives all start to look the same. Americans go to Cypress Gardens, Key West, Daytona Beach, and Weeki Wachee. They go to The Wisconsin Dells, Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon and the Black Hills. Who cares? Why even record these mundane adventures, already repeated and recorded by infinite others. Why document anything? Is it because human memory has for centuries been presumed to be fallible? Unreliable? What keeps drawing me back in to these mountains of engrammatic detritus, these human memory piles?

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It must be the pictures. I love the pictures. I click through hundreds of them a day, assaying the memories of the dead as if they are my own.